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European Commission

Viviane Reding

Vice-President of the European Commission, EU Commissioner for Justice

Main Messages: Citizens' Dialogue in Vilnius

Citizens' Dialogue/Vilnius

13 December 2013

1. Elections: When you make a choice, you change the future

2014 will be the year that Europe makes a choice.

You will not only be electing a new President. You, along with citizens across the European Union, will also be electing a new European Parliament.

2014 will be the year that people across our continent – including all of you here today – choose what kind of Europe they want to live in. After 5 years of crisis and crisis management, it is now for citizens across Europe to have a say

These elections are not about more or less Europe; they are about how we make best use of the Europe we have today. European Parliament elections are more important than national elections. Because they decide about the direction a whole continent will take.

Voters can decide:

  1. whether Europe should take a more social or a more market-liberal direction.

  2. whether the future majority in the European Parliament will favour the opening Europe's borders to immigration or close it;

  3. whether they will defend free movement rights of all EU citizens or focus on new rules against poverty migration;

  4. whether company boardrooms will have a women quota or not;

  5. whether we are tough with the U.S. when it comes to data protection or GMOs, or whether we will instead favour the economic benefits of free trade.

For each of these questions, I have my own answers. I am sure you have yours. And that is the way it should be. Election are about choice. They are about political alternatives.

This will be our best weapon against the Eurosceptics: to explain to our citizens that their vote really matters. That it would therefore be a waste of their vote to use it as a protest vote, by choosing Eurosceptics on the right or on the left.

But the future is no matter of chance. It is a matter of choice. Elections are determined by the people who turn up.

I want to see turnout at the next elections surpass 50%. Here in Lithuania and across the European Union.

2. The euro: Europe's Declaration of Independence

Many said the euro would raise the cost of living. In fact, it was the euro that enabled the creation of 600 000 more jobs since 1999 – that's more than in the U.S. In the heat of the economic and financial crisis many bandied about the term 'Grexit' and predicted the euro's demise. We have proved all the doomsayers wrong.

The Eurozone remains a united family and the euro remains a strong currency. The euro is the second most important reserve currency in the world. The euro is Europe's Declaration of Independence, it puts us ahead of our international competitors.

Lithuania's reasons for joining the Euro are strong.

  1. It makes commercial sense to share the currency of the countries to which you sell 60% of your exports;

  2. It makes economic sense to join a currency with a great track record of keeping interest rates and inflation low. [Inflation in the first 12 years of the Euro was at less than 2%];

  3. It makes political sense to be part of this strong currency union. Lithuania’s influence in the world will increase, just like when it joined NATO and then the EU;

Solidarity doesn't mean you pay for the Greeks. Like in a football game, to win you have to play as a team. And in a football team, if one player falls down, his teammates help him back up again. Solidarity for solidity – that is the way forward.

3. Together we punch above our weight

I come for a small Member State and I know very well that it is thanks to the European project small countries become very big. The same applies to Lithuania.

We can only succeed and be a world power by working together.

We must never forget what we have achieved: Thirty years ago, when I was a local Councillor, you could not even travel the single kilometre from my hometown of Esch-sur-Alzette in Luxembourg to Russange in France without a lengthy wait at the border. Today, young Europeans can travel over 3000 kilometres from Vilnius in the North-East to Valencia in the South-West, crossing five national borders without once having to stop to show their passport.

In these economically challenging times we need stability and more integration. In stormy waters, it's better to be in a big ship than a little one or than swimming alone.

4. Restoring trust

As a former USSR republic, you know what the word spying means. And you know that massive spying on our citizens, companies and leaders is unacceptable.

Citizens on both sides of the Atlantic need to be reassured that their data is protected, and companies need to know existing agreements are respected and enforced. At the end of November, the Commission set out a series of actions that would help to restore trust and strengthen data protection in transatlantic relations.

This includes 13 recommendations on how to improve the Safe Harbour scheme that allows companies to send data to the U.S. for commercial purposes: we want to make Safe Harbour safer. It is like when you take your car for a road worthiness test – first you check to see what needs repairing. Only after you have tried to fix it do you find out whether it can keep driving on the road.

There is now a window of opportunity to rebuild trust which we expect our American partners to use, notably by working with determination towards a swift conclusion of the negotiations on an EU-US data protection 'umbrella' agreement. Such an agreement has to give European citizens concrete and enforceable rights, notably the right to judicial redress in the US whenever their personal data are being processed there.

The data protection reform proposed by the Commission in January 2012 provides a response to fears of surveillance. It will help restore trust.

5. Data Protection: Completing the Digital Single Market

Data is today's currency, fuelling the digital economy. Like any currency it needs trust to be stable. Citizens' will only continue to give out their personal data if they trust it is not being misused. That's why the data protection reform – the new law we put on the table in January 2012 – is a win-win deal for citizens and companies.

  1. First, we are making things easier for companies doing business in our single market. We are cutting red tape, doing away with unnecessary notification requirements and giving them one set of rules and one interlocutor, instead of 28. The benefits are estimated at €2.3 billion per year.

  2. Second, we want to put citizens in control of their data. We are bolstering tried and tested principles like the right to be forgotten, and introducing new principles like the right to data portability and the right to be informed of personal data breaches. They will help close the growing rift between citizens and the companies with which they share their data.

The proposals are now in the hands of the European Parliament and the EU member states, who are the EU’s co-legislators. The European Parliament recently gave its strong backing to the Commission’s proposals, while EU leaders agreed at their summit in October to adopt the reform in a timely way. Now it is time national ministers followed through.

Notably in the light of continuing data scandals both in the private and in the public sector – the PRISM revelations have served as a wake-up call –, citizens are calling for strong European data protection rules and businesses want a simple, clear and enforceable legal framework for doing business in the EU's internal market. The EU data protection reform answers both needs.

Lithuania stands to benefit. Lithuania is flourishing in the digital market.

  1. Lithuanian technology companies are among the fastest growing in Central Europe

  2. Two Lithuanian companies, UAB Ruptela and UAB NFQ Technologies, have been ranked by Deloitte among the 50 fastest growing technology companies in Central Europe, (source: Invest Lithuania)

  3. Overall, Lithuania's ratings for fast-growing tech companies are better than Poland's.

A common data protection framework would bolster the digital economy, and help national companies to go European. Opening our internal market of 507 million consumers to SMEs thanks with one law for one continent will help the small become big. The next Google should be made in Europe.

6. Free movement

A lot of pedagogical work is required to explain the European rules. This work should in particular lie with the national Ministers of Interior who have agreed on these rules and who have to apply them at home.

There is no doubt that free movement is good for Europe. It is our duty to ensure that it remains this way.

This is the single market: Four fundamental freedoms. You cannot separate one from the other. You cannot have free movement of services and capital, but not of persons.

Free movement is a right to free circulation. There is no free movement for benefit fraud. Each and every Member State also decides under which conditions it grants access to this or that benefit to non-nationals.

We have to tackle abuse but keep our values and fundamental freedoms.

Our European rules have strong safeguards against abuse. Member States need to apply them to fight abuse.

The right to free movement is not up for negotiation. If we start negotiating freedoms we will end up with none.

In Lithuania you face a particular situation: with 200,000 of your youngest and brightest having moved elsewhere in the EU since 2004. But 3.6% of your GDP in 2012 came from Lithuanians abroad. This is free movement: not the Polish plumber but the Lithuanian lawyer!

The Commission is proposing five actions aimed at helping national and local authorities to effectively apply EU free movement rules.

7. Connecting Lithuania to the European energy grid

The Baltics and particularly Lithuania need to be connected to the European energy grid – by 2020 I do not want to see any more energy islands in Europe.

The power outages in the Baltic electricity market over the last few months, when sudden disruptions in the energy supply and generation made the electricity prices to go up, underline just how important interconnectivity is. A fully integrated market it could save tens of billions of euros a year in electricity costs.

The construction of the Klaipeda Liquefied Natural Gas Terminal will reduce Lithuania's dependence on a single source of gas and enhance its security of supply. The Commission has given its green light to state aid for this project.

And the Commission is supporting key infrastructure projects, which will help Member States to physically integrate their energy markets, enable them to diversify their energy sources and help bring an end to the energy isolation some of them, like the Baltic countries, are facing.

8. Ukraine

The EU will not allow third countries to dictate with whom we sign agreements. The people of Ukraine spoke in the cold streets of Kiev. Their calls for freedom and justice are so loud that the Government cannot not hear them.

What we see in these days in Kiev is an uprising for democracy, and for Europe. Is it really a coincidence that the Ukrainian flag has the same colour as the European flag?

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